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Russian scientists use ‘glowing molecules' to measure toxicity of nanomaterials

Researchers from the Siberian Federal University (SFU) and the Federal Research Center — Krasnoyarsk Scientific Center of the Siberian Branch of the RAS have developed a test system based on bioluminescent molecules for evaluating the toxicity of nanomaterials.
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Scientists extracted the luminescent molecules from the sea bacteria Vibrio fischeri. In the future, this technology can be modified and adapted for a broader range of nanomaterials. The research article summarizing the results has been published in the journal Toxicology in Vitro.

«The approach is characterized by the simplicity of usage, high sensitivity, and the speed of getting results,» the SFU message reported. Modern nanomaterials, for example, nanotubes and fullerenes, are becoming more and more widely used in medicine, perfumery, cosmetics, and the food industry. The researchers placed particular emphasis on the fact that all these materials might be toxic, but it is a challenging task to estimate their toxicity because of the peculiarities of these materials: their size, structure, surface properties, and chemical composition.

Scientists from SFU suggested using ‘glowing substances' extracted from sea luminescent bacteria to measure the toxicity. They developed a test system, made from small disks containing molecules of bioluminescent fragments. The analyzed samples are placed on the disk, and within several minutes, it starts to gleam with luminescent brightness indicating the level of toxicity.

The initial results of the test demonstrate that the most toxic objects are multilayer carbon nanotubes, followed by monolayer nanotubes and fullerenes. At the same time, significant toxicity is observed only in concentrations of substances much higher than those in nature. However, as the development of nanotechnology gains momentum, carbon material is being produced artificially in large qunatities.

In the recent years, carbon nanotubes have been widely used in various branches ranging from electronics to the auto industry.

They are folded into cylinder «sheets» of graphene — a modification of carbon laid in a plane of a molecular monolayer. In the case of multilayer tubes, such cylinders can be folded into one another in many ways. The technologies of artificial synthesis of carbon nanotubes are rapidly developing, and the range of their uses is steadily growing.

Therefore, the task of evaluating the toxicity of these materials is of high importance, as the interaction of nanomaterials with living cells including those of the human body remains the underexplored domain of material science.

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